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Steroids Prescribed To NFL Players

The baseball season opens next week under a shadow cast by allegations of steroid abuse.

The National Football League, by contrast, has been widely praised for having a tough steroid-testing program – which is why 60 Minutes Wednesday was surprised when an investigation we began last year led us to a list of prescriptions filled by current and former NFL players.

On the list were the names of NFL players who had prescriptions for steroids filled shortly before they played in the 2004 Super Bowl. Contributing Correspondent Anderson Cooper reports.

Super Bowl 2004 turned out to be one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever. When the Carolina Panthers took on the New England Patriots, 140 million Americans tuned in to watch.

Two players among the Panthers' starting offensive linemen had prescriptions filled for a banned steroid within a week and a half of the game, according to the list obtained by 60 Minutes Wednesday. So did the Panthers' star punter, one of the best in the NFL.

The list says the Panthers players had prescriptions for steroids filled at a South Carolina pharmacy. It doesn't say whether they actually used the steroids. But all three players repeatedly refilled their prescriptions – in one case, 10 times.

The NFL says it tests players randomly, without warning, throughout the year. And yet there's no record of these players ever testing positive.

"Apparently, players are not intimidated by the program," says David Black, a forensic toxicologist who helped the NFL set up its drug testing program in the late 1980s. 60 Minutes Wednesday showed him the players' prescription information without telling him their names.

"I must confess, before looking at this information, I really did not imagine that someone could use -- drug as it's represented here, and not be identified in the program," says Black, who thought they would get caught.

How members of the Carolina Panthers came to our attention is a story in itself -- a story that begins near an airport on the outskirts of Columbia, S.C., at the offices of Dr. James Shortt, a self-described "longevity physician." Shortt, as 60 Minutes Wednesday reported in January, was accused of killing one of his patients.

The county coroner said a controversial intravenous therapy the doctor administered was responsible for the death of patient Katherine Bibeau, but Shortt said she died of other causes.

Attorney Richard Gergel told 60 Minutes Wednesday last year that he was suing Shortt on behalf of the patient's family. Gergel also sued the neighboring Congaree pharmacy that filled some of the doctor's prescriptions.

In response to a routine request for documents, the pharmacy's lawyers provided Gergel with a list showing all the prescriptions the pharmacy filled for Shortt and his patients, from January through October 2004 – including the prescriptions for three Carolina Panthers.

Mignon Simpson is one of two former employees of Shortt who helped 60 Minutes Wednesday corroborate information on the list given by Gergel. While watching the Carolina Panthers play in the 2004 Super Bowl, she said she "recognized some of the players" that she had seen in Shortt's office.

Former patient Marguerite Meyer says she saw one of the Panthers in Shortt's office in the summer of 2004. "He was just very big. He was, I think, the biggest person I had seen," recalls Meyer, who says she asked Shortt's nurse, Kathleen Rush, who he was. "And Kathleen said, 'That was Todd Steussie.'"

Offensive lineman Todd Steussie – 6'6", and 320 pounds, is an NFL veteran and two-time Pro-Bowler. Out of 190 games, he's missed only one because of injury – a remarkable record.

His prescription record, however, tells a different story: 11 prescriptions of testosterone cream over an eight-month period.

Forensic toxicologist Black says testosterone is a steroid, and he says NFL players are not allowed to take it: "Testosterone is the original base chemical or the starting chemical for all the anabolic steroids."
Steussie now plays for Tampa Bay, but when he was with the Panthers, he was reportedly close friends with fellow lineman Jeff Mitchell. The list says Mitchell received seven testosterone prescriptions – more than a six-month supply.

Todd Sauerbrun, the NFL's top-rated punter two years in a row, got more than just testosterone. According to the list, he also obtained syringes and an injectible steroid called Stanozolol – at one point, receiving 2,500 mg in 21 days.

"I honestly, in my wildest expectations, I could not imagine someone using 2,500 milligrams of Stanozolol, competing in the NFL," says Black.

Stanozolol is the same steroid that sprinter Ben Johnson was caught using in the 1988 Olympics. Like other steroids, it's used to increase muscle mass, but Black says it can also be used at the time of competition to give athletes a psychological edge.

"I would read this as being used for a competitive advantage," says Black.

Would it give an advantage? "Yes," says Black, who speaks from personal experience. While directing a drug-testing lab at Vanderbilt University, he took some Stanozolol for research purposes.

"I must have been around 40 when I was injected with Stanozolol," says Black. "And I pretty much felt like I was 18 again."

Dr. Harry Fisch of Columbia University Medical Center, says the long-term risks of steroids far outweigh the short-term benefits.

"If you take too much testosterone, you could have heart disease, heart attacks. You could have strokes," says Fisch. "There are psychological issues such as rage, aggression and actual depression when you remove the testosterone."

Fisch says he gives testosterone to men who are deficient, but not in the dosages that some of the Panthers were receiving.

"We prescribe very small amounts to men who need it," says Fisch. "These people are taking mega doses of these medications, well above what we would prescribe, and at levels that could result in testosterone levels that are sky high."

If that's true, why wasn't it detected?

"We test players on all teams each week, conducting more than 9,000 tests a year for steroids and related substances," says NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who told Congress last year the league spends $10 million annually on steroid testing and education.

The NFL says it tests all players for banned substances before the season starts, and then randomly tests seven players per team every week of the season.

"Over the past five seasons, just to take one example, we've only had 25 players who have violated our program and been suspended," says Tagliabue. "This is far below 1 percent."

NFL officials declined to give 60 Minutes Wednesday an on-camera interview. But at the NFL team owners meeting last week, Tagliabue said the league was looking into the situation with the Carolina Panthers.

"We have our security people investigating that, and I know they're cooperating closely with the Panthers," says Tagliabue.
In a statement to 60 Minutes, the NFL said: "Is this a widespread problem? We doubt it."

But Black says there is a problem if the NFL's testing program didn't catch players receiving so many steroid prescriptions for so long.

"If this continued to go on, under the umbrella of that program, then that program needs to be reevaluated and have some substantial improvement," says Black.

Testing for testosterone is difficult. Men naturally produce it in their bodies, but the levels vary widely from one man to the next. So in the NFL, only players with testosterone levels six times above normal are flagged as potential violators.

"It's almost like saying if the speed limit on a highway's 55 miles an hour, you're gonna give a ticket to only those that are speeding at over 100 miles an hour," says Fisch. "You could be missing a tremendous amount of steroid use below that level."

The NFL says it plans to toughen its screening for testosterone to bring it in line with recently stiffened standards for Olympic athletes. But there's one banned substance the NFL doesn't test for at all -- Human Growth Hormone, or HGH. Like steroids, HGH can make big athletes even bigger. The NFL is supporting research to develop a urine test, but there isn't one at the moment, which means if you're using HGH, it's very hard to get caught.

Unless, of course, the woman who mails it to you decides to go on national television. "Do you know for a fact that professional football players from the Carolina Panthers were receiving Human Growth Hormone?" Cooper asked Mignon Simpson.

"Yes," says Simpson.

How did she know that they were receiving HGH?

"Well, because I shipped out some of it," says Simpson, who adds that "possibly a half dozen" professional football players got the Human Growth Hormone from Dr. Shortt.

Simpson says the growth hormone wouldn't show up on any pharmacy list because she shipped it straight from a refrigerator in Shortt's office: "The amount and dosage, I mean, I don't recall. But I know when things cost thousand -- couple of thousand dollars, that's not a little bit."

And it wasn't just once or twice, she says. "[It was] on a fairly regular basis," says Simpson.

Simpson says she quit working in the doctor's office because she grew suspicious about some of the medications the athletes were receiving: "If this is good, why aren't the others receiving it as well? Why isn't this -- why didn't the coach load up the bus and send 'em all down?"

In September 2004, a year after Simpson quit, state and federal investigators raided Shortt's office. The State newspaper in South Carolina has reported the Drug Enforcement Agency wants to interview nine current and former Panthers about Shortt.

60 Minutes Wednesday tried to talk to Shortt about the Panthers last year, but didn't get very far.

"Now, you treat professional football players, too," Cooper asked Shortt.

"I do nutritional work and detoxification," said Shortt.

His lawyer told 60 Minutes Wednesday that the federal health privacy law known as HIPAA limited what the doctor could say.

"But in general, professional football players come to you for what?" Cooper asked Shortt.

"I really think that goes beyond HIPAA," said Shortt.

Shortt declined to be interviewed for this story. So did Todd Steussie and Jeff Mitchell.

60 Minutes Wednesday did have a brief phone conversation with punter Todd Sauerbrun. When asked about Shortt, Sauerbrun said, "I like the guy very much." Ten minutes later, he called back and said, "Dude, we got our communications confused …I don't know this guy."

Shortt is still open for business at his office in South Carolina -- despite the DEA investigation into his prescription of steroids.

"This is bad medicine [for a doctor to prescribe this amount of medication, in this combination]," says Black. "It's not good medicine. This is not even medicine. This is better athletes through chemistry."

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